Night in the Garden of Love

Shezad Dawood’s new exhibition is an immersive digital jazz garden
By Ella Joyce | Art | 19 May 2023

Shezad Dawood, Night in the Garden of Love, 2023. VR environment, duration variable, produced by UBIK Productions, co-commissioned by WIELS, Brussels and Aga Khan Museum, Toronto. Courtesy of UBIK Productions

Revisiting the records of African-American multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef he loved as a child was the catalyst for artist Shezad Dawood‘s latest exhibition at Wiels Contemporary in Brussels. Taking the same name as Lateef’s 1988 novella Night in the Garden of Love, Dawood honours the legacy of the jazz musician through his multidisciplinary practice spanning VR, painted textiles and choreography – intertwining Lateef’s sounds and drawings with his own.

“There’s been so many unexpected echoes that have just kept generating,” says Dawood. Using the plot of Lateef’s novella as a portal to explore notions of call and response, Dawood is placing his practice in dialogue with Lateef’s to mirror the exchange in musical improvisation. Multi-sensory, a garden of algorithmic plants blossoms digitally in response to live improvisational music sessions, as excerpts from Lateef’s discography create a vivid soundscape accompanied by a specially-designed fragrance that evokes floral notes of the Garden’s ecosystem.

Shezad Dawood, Night in the Garden of Love, 2023. Performance rehearsal, Choreographer and Dancer: Wan-Lun Yu. Costume: Ahluwalia. Images: Miranda Sharp. Courtesy of UBIK Productions.

A pioneer of a methodology called Autophysiopsychic music, Dawood tells us of how the intention of Lateef’s theory is echoed throughout the show; “It was not quite improvisation in the traditional sense, it was through a shared notation between musicians and they try to arrive at a live performance which stimulated physical, mental and spiritual faculties of the audience.” Breaking down the barrier between performer and audience arrives in the immersive nature of Dawood’s practice, having released his first VR work in 2016 this show marks the artist’s introduction to two-player console. 

Not only treating the eyes and the ears, Dawood has also crafted a series of Digital Seedbanks presenting algorithmically generated plants which grow before your eyes to musical sessions inspired by Lateef’s sound. Bringing to life the garden’s imagined ecosystem, each plant is accompanied by a unique scent created in collaboration with Olivia Bransbourg of Iconofly, Paris-based perfumer Nicolas Bonneville and fragrance house Firmenich. “These digital gardens were made with previous collaborators and students of Lateef to drive algorithms that are biological in the way they’ve been constructed to chart plant growth. At some point, one might decay and die, because a certain instrument has gone quiet meanwhile another one will be blooming.”

Shezad Dawood, Mutant Dancer, 2023. Acrylic on vintage textile hanging, 180 x 157 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary.

Lateef’s character of the Mutant is both a constant in the plot of his novella and in Dawood’s showcase, brought to life by London-based designer Priya Ahluwalia who he first worked alongside for Frieze in 2019. Speaking on the collaboration Dawood tells us; “We both share a passion for textiles and upcycling, she’d come to the studio and incorporate some of my fabrics into some of her fabrics. We have a great shorthand, I knew I had to call Priya for this.” Combining vintage fabrics with the artist’s own textile work to form vivid patchwork creations, Ahluwalia’s costumes were filmed on Brussels-based dancer Wan-Lun Yu who created choreography alongside Dawood to mirror the narrative of Lateef’s novella.

While the costumes will be displayed as mannequins and through the powers of VR, at regular intervals throughout the exhibition visitors will be surprised by a live performance from Wan-Lun Yu. “I just love the idea that someone could pull off a VR headset and the person is there performing live, but obviously, it’s not gonna happen to everyone and I like that idea. We’re opening up possibilities, encounters and moments.” He continues, “It’s important for this to feel like an experience, you’re asking somebody to step off the street into your world as an artist. What are you doing to make it interesting for them?”


Night in the Garden of Love, Inspired by & featuring Yusef Lateef runs at WIELS, Brussels until 13th August, more info here


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